Balkinization  

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sleeping Through a Revolution

Scott Horton

"I am sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving, entitled 'Rip Van Winkle.' The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept twenty years. But there is another point... that is almost completely overlooked. It was the sign in the end, from which Rip went up in to the mountain for his long sleep. When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign has a picture of King George III of England. When he came down twenty years later, the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States... The most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution...

"There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare. Then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place and there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, 'Behold, I make all things new, former things are passed by'...

"God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. God bless you."


- Rev Martin Luther King Jr., sermon delivered on Passion Sunday (Mar. 31, 1968) at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC (from: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., pp. 268-69, 278).


Martin Luther King's last Sunday sermon, from which I have quoted key passages, is in a sense anchored in the turbulence of 1968. King speaks passionately against the war in Vietnam. His call for civil rights continues the migration into the sphere of economic rights which marked his last years, and which cost King much support among traditional liberals. I remember 1968, and this sermon. I remember feeling that King was slipping away from the powerful message that had led him on a climb to greatness. And yet there was something very powerful about this sermon, with its majestic evocation of Revelation 21:5, the downright Hegelian recounting of Washington Irving's most famous tale and its citations of the Elizabethan metaphysical poet and divine John Donne.

On Saturday, I visited King's grave site in Atlanta and what came to mind was not King's famous speech on the Washington Mall, but this one. Is it really so closely tied to America of 1968, I wondered? Does it not speak to us, like the voice of John on Patmos, across the ages? The images King wields are strong and they speak as well to America today as they did in 1968. Once more, we find our country at war, with leadership asserting a greater measure of power than the Constitution allots it. Once more, the people are filled with doubt about a foreign misadventure. Then, at King's urging, the gap between rich and poor was closing, the middle class was nearing the apogee of its historical importance. Now, the gap between the truly wealthy and all the rest is growing at a staggering pace. Indeed, as the Government doles out tax benefits, they benefit the truly wealthy, not the poor or middle class.

And who is this man who is sleeping through a revolution? I am afraid it's America which has grown so detached from the world, which has failed to play its proper role - the role that George Washington played for his world, that of a moral and political beacon. It's Bush and his team who are sleeping through this revolution. They are engaged, but not in any sense that shows they are alert to the forces of history; they have placed too much confidence in the force of arms - more than any military man would. They have shown no loyalty to the values on their lips. They are sleepwalkers. And that is a tragedy for us and the world.

But Dr King's core message here is one Americans need to hear: it is the imperative of being engaged with the world, and upholding our deepest values in the process - resisting the impulses to isolationism which inevitably follow foreign policy reversals. We should all take time to remember today that America's military misadventure in Indochina produced a region that has been the world's most tenacious outpost for Communism. On the other hand, the example of Martin Luther King had profound consequences not only for America, but for the world. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu tell us that the peaceful transformation of South Africa could not have occurred but for the precedent that Dr King provided. Vaclav Havel, Andrei Sakharov and other leaders in the struggle for democracy in the ruins of Communist Eurasia have all cited King and his message as vital inspirations. The truth is simple: Martin Luther King - the example of his life - did far more to bring an end to Communist oppression than all the bombs rained from B-52's on North Vietnam. I say this not to detract from the legacy of Ronald Reagan, his masterful handling of the dynamics of Soviet Communism's end phase, nor the importance of a strong military as a means of insuring peace and stability, but rather I cite it as proof of the vitality of the American idea, of which King must now be counted a prime expositor, in the world today.

This example, the commitment to justice and peaceful change, the commitment to true democracy, has always been America's greatest weapon in the struggle against tyrannical adversaries. This week, our president takes another page from the tragedy of the Vietnam War. This day, as we remember Martin Luther King Jr., we will all do well to question the wisdom of Bush's policies. We should question the unwise faith reposed in military might alone. But we should remember our commitment to our nation's values, and we should not pause for an instant in our advocacy of those values. Neither must we forget the obligation we have to those in Iraq who have been placed in harm's way as a result of our Government's decisions. Truly there is a revolution afoot in the world today, but properly viewed it is not something for Americans to fear. Americans have ever been the revolutionaries, equipped with the tools to profoundly influence the world for the better. Those tools are ideas, a way of life and the best educational institutions on our planet. We only need to use them, but to do so with a measure of humility. In all of this Martin Luther King Jr. is a powerful example.

Let us be mindful of King's final prayer "God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy." Amen.

Comments:

Dr. King's primary contribution was the use of non violent civil disobedience to embarrass the citizenry of the United States into outlawing state and private racial discrimination in favor of European Americans and against African Americans. However, like Ghandi, King was successful in this endeavor because he was attempting to persuade a liberal democracy.

Unfortunately, totalitarian governments rarely suffer civil disobedience seeking political change. If Ghandi and King had tried their approach in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Empire, the current China and Vietnam, Taliban Afghanistan, Baathist Iraq, their fate would have been torture followed by a trip to the gulag or, more likely, a quick and nasty execution.

Soviet dissidents may have been inspired by King, but they never successfully followed his lead.

Nazi Europe, the Soviet Empire, Taliban Afghanistan and Baathist Iraq were brought down and their peoples liberated by outside force, not civil disobedience. Indeed, we paid for our own freedom in blood though a war of revolution.

Dr. King, like Ghandi, is indeed an inspiration for us on many levels. However, to achieve his dream of human liberty, sometimes you must turn to the rough men who are willing to fight for that freedom.
 

Bart: sometimes you must turn to the rough men who are willing to fight for that freedom.

Your point is not entirely lost on, well, me at least, and it puts you in some strange company, like Saul Alinsky, who argues, in his "Rules for Radicals", that Gandhi's choice of non-violence may have been at least partly a matter of expedience based on the realities of the populace he was trying to mobilize.

Be that as it may, it's pretty mean-spirited of you to preach strength-of-arms on this thread, as if you can't bear to let prayers, plans and dreams of peace have even this much safe harbor. There are "rough men" aplenty, so certain of their status as "the good guys", so willing to kill on command. There are far, far too few willing to endure un-glamorously for peace. Would it kill you to support those few? Or even simply let them speak rather than roughly shouting them down?
 

Bart writes:"Nazi Europe, the Soviet Empire, Taliban Afghanistan and Baathist Iraq were brought down and their peoples liberated by outside force, not civil disobedience."

Nazi Germany, Taliban Afghanistan , & Baathist Iraq were clearly brought down by outside force, but not the Soviet Union. That was actually a very different situation. Nobody invaded the Soviet Union, and the 'outside force' applied was not military in its implementation.

Your response seems consistent with the attitude that peace is nice, but war is real. Ultimately war is about causing problems, peace is about solving them.

Peace has more power than war, and all life has equal value. If not, the human condition itself is a fraud, and all wrongs against humanity are justifiable and acceptable.
 

"Rough men!"

Bart! You are so butch!

One of my fondest false wingnut memes. Rough men! On walls! With BIG guns! Are you a Jack Bauer fan, too, Bart?

Did George Orwell a creature of the political left (an anti-totalitarian democratic socialist)ever say: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf?" Or: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us?"

Not exactly. But he did make comments that were along similar lines.

No one is sure where this one came from but Orwell never said it. I suspect the fictional character of Col. Nathan Jessup ("Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.") from arch-liberal Aaron Sorkin's play, "A Few Good Men" (and always misunderstood by the right) is all a "true believer" needs. It's typically Reaganesque and that puts it squarely in De Palma's miniscule universe.


In his essay on Rudyard Kipling (1942), Orwell wrote: "[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilised, are there to guard and feed them."

And in his 'Notes on Nationalism' (1945) he wrote:
"Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." Where the rough men crept in with guns and climbed up on the walls is anyone's guess. I suspect Saddam Hussein was one of those "rough men" Orwell was talking about. In the case of India's fight for independence, Orwell would have recognized that the "rough men with guns" were the British, (he was one of them) preventing the Indians from independence and freedom and that in most cases their fate was being tortured followed by a trip to the gulag or, more likely, a quick and nasty execution.
 

Nazi Germany, Taliban Afghanistan , & Baathist Iraq were clearly brought down by outside force, but not the Soviet Union. That was actually a very different situation. Nobody invaded the Soviet Union, and the 'outside force' applied was not military in its implementation.

Thank you. I meant to point that out as well. Part and parcel of De Palma's fairy tale of Reaganesque revisionism and myth making.

Gerald Ford (ever the true conservative and Republican) held his tongue, not wanting to speak ill of the dead (or living dead) until he had joined them:

Ford said Reagan, who challenged him unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 1976, was "a great spokesman for attractive political objectives" such as a balanced budget and defeating communism, "but when it came to implementation, his record never matched his words."

Reagan was "probably the least well-informed on the details of running the government of any president I knew," Ford said. In a separate interview, he said Reagan "was just a poor manager, and you can't be president and do a good job unless you manage."

Under the 1975 Helsinki accords signed by Ford, the United States recognized borders in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe in exchange for the Soviets' pledge to respect basic human rights.

Ford said other key factors that won the Cold War were the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II and the establishment of NATO.

"When you put peace, prosperity and human rights against poverty, a massive unsuccessful military program and a lack of human rights, communism was bound to collapse," he said. "No president, no Democrat or Republican, can claim credit for those programs. I'll tell you who deserves the credit -- the American people."


Not that it matters much. No sensible person believes any of that drivel about Reagan. "Reagan puffery" and "Carter bashing" are cottage industries on the extremist right.
 

"Bart" DePalma:

Unfortunately, totalitarian governments rarely suffer civil disobedience seeking political change. If Ghandi and King had tried their approach in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Empire, the current China and Vietnam, Taliban Afghanistan, Baathist Iraq, their fate would have been torture followed by a trip to the gulag or, more likely, a quick and nasty execution.

Cf. Tainanmen Square.

FWIW, Gandhi practised his non-violence against a regime and in a millieu of considerable violence, imprisonment, and arguably excesses and "torture" (as did MLKII; lynchings, dogs, jail, murders, etc.)

"Bart"'s 'black and white' worldview here is severely distorted. The fact that Gandhi and MLKII were advocates of non-violence would hardly be noteworthy except for the circumstances under which they preached this doctrine. Had everything been roses, no one would have made anything of them an dthei rmovement, nor would such have even been necessary.

Cheers,
 

JT Davis said...

"Rough men!"

Bart! You are so butch!


Now you are descending to homosexual smack?

Did George Orwell a creature of the political left (an anti-totalitarian democratic socialist)ever say: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf?" Not exactly. But he did make comments that were along similar lines.

If he did not make this statement, he probably wishes he did.

In any case, the statement is not important because George Orwell may have said it. Rather, it is important because it is true.

bits: Nazi Germany, Taliban Afghanistan , & Baathist Iraq were clearly brought down by outside force, but not the Soviet Union. That was actually a very different situation. Nobody invaded the Soviet Union, and the 'outside force' applied was not military in its implementation.

Thank you. I meant to point that out as well. Part and parcel of De Palma's fairy tale of Reaganesque revisionism and myth making.


As I have previously posted in detail, force has more dimensions than merely the military. However, the application of military force against the Red Army in Afghanistan and against Soviet satellites was a critical part of the toppling of the Soviet Empire.

Gerald Ford (ever the true conservative and Republican) held his tongue, not wanting to speak ill of the dead (or living dead) until he had joined them:

Ford said Reagan, who challenged him unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 1976, was "a great spokesman for attractive political objectives" such as a balanced budget and defeating communism, "but when it came to implementation, his record never matched his words."


Mr. Ford never forgave Reagan for challenging and nearly beating him in 1976. Ford blamed his loss to Carter on Reagan supporters for staying home.

As for the comment above, I find it humorous that the President who claimed that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet control is taking shots at the man who toppled the Soviets.

Reagan was "probably the least well-informed on the details of running the government of any president I knew," Ford said. In a separate interview, he said Reagan "was just a poor manager, and you can't be president and do a good job unless you manage."

Yup, Reagan sure did a poor job as President. Jerry, how did that Wip Inflation Now button campaign work for you? Was inflation impressed?

Under the 1975 Helsinki accords signed by Ford, the United States recognized borders in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe in exchange for the Soviets' pledge to respect basic human rights.

Ford genuinely thought that recognizing the enslavement of Eastern Europe by the Soviets helped win the Cold War? I guess that is why the now free Eastern Europeans are naming things after Reagan and not Ford. Jerry, what you did is known as appeasement.
 

Bart writes:"As I have previously posted in detail, force has more dimensions than merely the military. However, the application of military force against the Red Army in Afghanistan and against Soviet satellites was a critical part of the toppling of the Soviet Empire."

Rather than simply imply how right you believe you've been in the past, why not just link to those earlier posts?

And yes, in fact the toppling of the Soviet Union was very different qualitatively than Nazi Germany, Taliban Afghanistan, and Baathist Iraq. Unless, of course, you can cite the date the soviet union was invaded and occupied.
 

@Bart: First you have the incredibly bad taste to argue strength of arms in the context of Mr. Horton's post and the memory of Dr. King's work. Then you prove yourself unable to resist the temptation of arguing with your detractors. But I note which of your detractors you argue with. My point still stands: Your initial comments in this context are beneath the dignity with which I would very much like to credit you. Are you so much the grunt that you are unable to view the world in any other terms? Are you immune to prayers for peace? Is this Christianity?
 

"Bart" DePalma:

Yup, Reagan sure did a poor job as President. Jerry, how did that Wip Inflation Now button campaign work for you? Was inflation impressed?

"Bart" misspelled "Terra-ism"....

Cheers,
 

"Bart" DePalma:

Ford genuinely thought that recognizing the enslavement of Eastern Europe by the Soviets helped win the Cold War? I guess that is why the now free Eastern Europeans are naming things after Reagan and not Ford. Jerry, what you did is known as appeasement....

I, OTOH, am truly amased at the number of statues of Dubya going up all round Iraq. Why, there's enough of them to hang each and every Saddam accomplice from, one per outstreched hand....

Cheers,
 

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